The Airbus A400M has proved popular with many countries, with high payload, range, and versatile capabilites.
The Airbus A400M is a European-built military transport aircraft. It was initially proposed and ordered by a group of European countries (plus Turkey), and has since been sold to more. Airbus has delivered 118 aircraft, with 60 more on order. It set out to be a replacement for other transport aircraft, and offer some improvements in size and capability – and has delivered well on this.
Designed as a replacement for earlier military transports
The origins of the A400 go back to the early 1980s, when several aircraft manufacturers came together to look at a replacement for the earlier Lockheed C-130 Hercules and Transall C-160 military transport aircraft (shown in the image below). The design was initially carried out by a consortium known as the Future International Military Airlifter (FIMA) group, but with various changes in participation, this later became Euroflag.
The new aircraft was envisaged to be larger and have greater range than the C-130, but smaller than the Boeing C-17 Globemaster. A four-engine turboprop design was decided upon, but a new design was needed to meet the size and speed requirements. The Europrop TP400D was chosen over another proposal from Pratt & Whitney.
The A400M is built by Airbus Military, a consortium of European aerospace companies, with participation from a number of ordering countries. Initially, this consortium comprised Belgium, France, Germany, Luxemburg, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom (Malaysia joined later).
As with other Airbus aircraft, construction is split between several locations, and the Beluga transport aircraft is used to bring components together. The wings are manufactured in the UK, the fuselage in Germany, and the final assembly takes place in Spain. This video from Airbus shows some highlights of the construction process.
Construction was delayed slightly. There were challenges with reaching the required payload, and also cost overruns which ordering countries had to commit to. The aircraft took its first flight in December 2009 and received EASA certification in March 2013. The first aircraft was delivered to the French Air Force in August 2013.
Photo: Justin Hayward / Simple Flying
The A400M was designed to meet the operational needs of a number of military air forces. Most significantly, it served as a European-built replacement for the Lockheed C-130 Hercules. This has been an incredibly successful aircraft, with over 2,500 aircraft built since the late 1950s. It remains well in service and in production – with an updated C-130J Super Hercules launched in 1999. It also offered a modern replacement for the French and German built Transall C-160.
The A400M is able to carry a payload of up to 37 tons (this is 37,000 kg or 81,600 lbs). This improves significantly on the Transall C-160’s maximum payload of 16 tons and the C-130s of 19 tons. It is still well below the C-17s payload of around 77 tons.
Photo: Justin Hayward / Simple Flying
The A400M has a maximum range of 8,900 kilometers (4,800 nautical miles). This is obviously dependent on the payload. At maximum payload, the range drops to 3,300 kilometers (2,100 nautical miles). The image below shows the maximum operating range from Paris, based on a 20-ton and a 30-ton payload.
The aircraft is also able to operate from smaller runways and from rougher, unprepared surfaces. This is a notable difference from other transport aircraft and has particular use in some operations. According to Airbus, it can operate from a 750-meter (2,500 feet) runway with a 25-ton payload.
It has a maximum speed of Mach 0.72. This is faster than most turboprop aircraft, including the C-130 and C-160, and was a significant factor in the engine choice and design. This allows for faster deployment and maximizes crew duty time.
Operated by eight countries at the moment
The Airbus A400M is used by several countries’ air forces. It is not just used as a military transport aircraft. It also has roles in aerial refueling (with modification) and medical evacuation. Use as a tanker for two-point air-to-air refueling is possible with minimal modification to any aircraft. Airbus has also conducted tests of a firefighting update/modification for the A400M, which would give the aircraft another use for tackling the growing threat of wildfires globally.
According to Airbus data (as of the end of April 2023), 118 A400M aircraft have been delivered to eight countries. No delivered aircraft have yet been withdrawn from service. The eight operating countries are:
- Germany – 40 aircraft
- United Kingdom – 22 aircraft
- France – 21 aircraft
- Spain – 14 aircraft
- Turkey – 10 aircraft
- Belgium – 6 aircraft
- Malaysia – 4 aircraft
- Luxembourg – 1 aircraft
The A400M remains in production today. There are currently 60 outstanding orders – from both current operators and new countries. The largest outstanding orders are from France for 29 aircraft, and Germany and Spain for 13 aircraft each. Indonesia and Kazakhstan also each have aircraft on order – as new customers.
The aircraft has seen plenty of service by these countries. Right at the start of its service, the French Air Force used the A400M in Mali in support of its Operation Serval. There have been many more airlift and aid missions, including a relief mission after Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean in 2017.
As just one good example of an operational mission, Simple Flying looked in more detail at the A400M’s role in the 2021 Kabul airlift. The UK Royal Air Force moved around 17,000 people out of the city, using a combination of C-17s, C-130s, and the Airbus A400M. Its capacity and range (allowing operation into and out of Kabul without refueling) were seen as key benefits of the type. The aircraft’s Enhanced Vision System was vital, too – enabling safe operation at Kabul airport in low visibility, non-functioning airport lights, and smoke disruption.
The A400M Grizzly
The main production version of the A400M is known as the A400M Atlas. You may also have heard of another naming – the A400M Grizzly. This is not another variant or any different specification. This is simply the naming given for the first production (and testing) aircraft. It was switched to the (arguably more European-sounding) Atlas for production and delivery aircraft. The image below shows one of these Grizzly prototypes at its retirement in Germany, after 12 years of testing and development work.
Would you like to discuss more about the A400M – its design, performance, or operations? Or anything about other military transport aircraft? Let us know in the comments section.
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